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Ask the CEO—Step 1: Become a CEO; Step 2: Join a Gang

T Paul ThomasOkay, so I don’t mean a bad gang that will get you into trouble or cause trouble, the gang I’m referring to is a chapter of one of many great CEO organizations that brings CEOs together like YPO (Young Presidents Organization), Vistage, Alliance of CEOs, One Accord, Convene, etc.

Just last week, I kicked off the first CEO Peer Group for NACET (Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology). As I drove home after the meeting, it all came back to me: the importance of a peer group and how my career would have been very different if not for Alliance of CEOs, YPO, and the peer CEOs in my group that unselfishly helped me.

Who Helps You and Answers All Your Questions?

 In the mid-80s, I was a young executive with Tempe-based MicroAge. Back in those dark ages of tech, you could only buy a computer from a computer authorized store. MicroAge had franchisees that were authorized to sell Apple, Compaq, IBM and HP computers.

Every now and then, Jeff McKeever would travel with me. He was the founder and CEO of MicroAge. On the flight and in the rental car, I constantly peppered Jeff with questions. How do you do this? Why do we do that? When did you do this? At one point, I commented that it was great for me to get all this information and insight, but who did he have to ask questions?

He told me about YPO, how it was organized and the impact that it had on him both professionally and personally.

The Source of All Knowledge and the Holder of Every Business Secret  

The day I was first named CEO of my company, I contacted YPO and asked what I needed to do in order to get my secret decoder ring and to have all my business puzzles solved. After going through the interview process and various checking, I was accepted in the Arizona YPO chapter.

What I soon discovered was that this “gang” was made up of 75 woman and men just like me. All of us young CEOs who needed a Jeff McKeever to ask questions of and to get help. In a great CEO peer group, you have individuals who have experienced everything and are willing to share and help with completely objective and honest feedback. These peers over time grow to be your closest friends, willing to drop everything when needed.

To my surprise, I discovered that solving the business questions and puzzles wasn’t the main benefit of joining the group. It was dealing with the personal and family issues that arise in our lives. I learned that a great CEO must address three things every day in order to be successful: the business, family and self (always in a different order depending on the day). But that is a topic for another column.


You Have Lots of Options, But They Cost


In my opinion, the leader and most well run CEO peer organization is YPO. YPO has chapters worldwide and when you join a local group you are immediately connected to the members around the world. Another amazing group is Alliance of CEOs, which is based in Northern California. The rest include Vistage (formerly known as TEC), the Christian CEO Peer group Convene, One Accord, and there are others that seem to pop up every month.

Unfortunately running these organizations cost a lot of money so you will pay a premium to belong. The average group charges between $12,000 and $15,000 a year. Yes that is a lot of money, regardless of who you are but I can tell you as I looked back on my time in these groups, it was a bargain. Being a CEO is a lonely job and finding a “gang” that shares the same challenges and is able to provide unbiased

and objective feedback and answers is even better than having a personal Jeff McKeever. FBN


T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University and serves as Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU and NACET in 2013 Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and president. Paul can be reached at thomas.tpaul@gmail.com

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